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High-profile suicides can be a trigger, LI experts say

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died by suicide

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in the same week. Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews, Andy Kropa

The high-profile suicides of chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade this week could work as a trigger for people already thinking about taking their own lives, Long Island experts said Friday — but they have also increased attention to the resources available to help people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Extensively reported cases can make suicide seem to be more of “a viable option” if rich, famous people “who seem like they have it all” made that decision, said Theresa Buhse, associate executive director of the Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore.

Buhse said anyone worried about a friend or loved one should check in on them and use a direct approach. You might say you’re noticing behaviors that can be associated with thoughts of suicide, Buhse said, and then ask, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

A frank approach can let the person know “you’re not afraid” of the subject and you care enough to ask, she said.

Genevieve Weber, Hofstra University associate professor of counseling and mental health, agreed that a direct approach is best. She said it was “very disturbing” to see how, based on news reports, Bourdain “pretty much imitated” Spade despite seeing the devastation her death caused her family.

“We can’t rationalize an irrational mind,” she said. “A depressed mind, a hopeless mind is very dangerous.”

Signs to watch for include:

  • Dramatic changes in eating and/or sleeping habits.
  • Isolation, steering clear of people, dropping previously enjoyed activities.
  • Comments such as, “The world would be better off without me.”
  • Giving items away, tying up loose ends.

But the two deaths, along with stories about the rising suicide rate nationally, have led to increased attention to suicide and associated resources. Suicide rates inched up in nearly every U.S. state from 1999 through 2016, according to a government report released Thursday.

As she was driving to work Friday, Buhse said, she heard three mentions of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number, which is 800-273-8255. The radio announcer, she said, encouraged listeners to look for warning signs in friends, neighbors, co-workers.

“If anything good” can come from these recent deaths, it’s that they do get people talking and reaching out, she said. The direct line to her crisis center is 516-679-1111.

There were nearly 45,000 suicides in 2016, the new government report showed. Middle-aged adults — ages 45 to 64 — had the largest rate increase, rising to 19.2 per 100,000 in 2016 from 13.2 per 100,000 in 1999.


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